Police have obtained a court order to excavate two sites in violence-prone Tana River county they believe may be secret mass graves.
The sites, near Ozi Village in Tana Delta District, were discovered by paramilitary officers deployed to the area.
They are near Kilelengwani Village where 38 people, including nine police officers were killed by raiders last week.
The officer in charge of operations at the General Service Unit, Mr Anthony Kamitu, said the digging would start once government pathologists arrive at the scene.
The victims could have been killed in the attack on Kilelengwani village, he added. (READ: Police suspect Tana sites contain 'bodies or firearms')
The court order was issued at the Garsen law courts. Police commissioner Mathew Iteere said there were reports of many people who had been missing since the month-long violence broke out.
Speaking before the court order was issued, Mr Iteere said: “I’ve directed the officers in the area to move to court and apply for exhumation order because the law does not allow us to dig them up just like that without the court order.
"First we want to know the number of bodies buried there before we embark on establishing their identities.”
Nature of injuries
Mr Kamitu said police were now waiting for pathologists. ‘‘Nobody knows how many remains are buried there. We also want to know the nature of injuries they succumbed to,’’ he said.
Earlier, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the sites could also contain illegal firearms used in the violence. GSU officers combing the area in search of armed militia on Sunday came cross the fresh mounds of soil, he said.
They also recovered a flag of the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council group, red bandanas similar to ones used by tribal warriors and items stolen from police officers.
The police items were stolen in the attack on Kilelengwani village. The government has put the death toll arising from the month-long violence at 112 but this could go up if the sites have more victims.
The government last week deployed about 1,800 paramilitary officers to the area to quell the violence. However, fresh violence rocked the region, in Garsen constituency, on Sunday night and early Monday during which 35 houses were torched.
The Kenya Red Cross said there were no casualties as the villagers had fled the area. “There were no people when the attacks happened; we suspect that they are either in the camps or are hiding in the forest,” said KRC Communication officer Nelly Mulluka.
The violence which has pitted the pastoralist Orma community against their Pokomo neighbours, who are mostly farmers, has been blamed on jostling for elective positions in next year’s General Election.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has said one group believes it will lose power if its rivals are allowed to register and vote.
And Supkem secretary general Adan Wachu said after leading an inter-religious fact finding mission to the area that the Orma feel they are marginalised since none of the three MPs in the county is from their community.
Livestock assistant minister and Galole MP Dhadho Godhana has already been arraigned in court in connection with the violence and suspended from government pending the outcome of the case.
Nineteen people arrested over the violence, including two assistant chiefs, were charged with violence-related offence in a Garsen court on Tuesday.
However, the group did not plead to the charges as the prosecution sought more time to complete investigations. Garsen Senior Resident magistrate Justus Kituku gave the police five days to wrap up their investigations and return the accused to court to plead to the charges.
He also ordered the police to allow the suspects access to their relatives and to record statements on alleged harassment while in custody.
Mr Kituku said the court appreciated the fact that scores of residents had been killed in the chaos while many others had fled their homes. This had made investigations into the violence difficult, he observed.
The suspects were allowed to address the court during which they complained about being roughed up by GSU officers who arrested them. The suspects will return to court on Monday. They were remanded at Gamba police station.
They also said they had been held incommunicado and asked the court to direct that their relatives be allowed to visit them. The court session was conducted amid tight security provided by GSU officers and their colleagues from the regular and Administration Police units.
Additional report by Robert Nyagah